PORTLAND — Josh Johnson, a horticultural student at Southern Maine Community College and sales associate at the High Tech Garden Supplies store in Portland, was one of the big hits at Saturday’s medical marijuana festival.
Not only were people lined up to receive a free gift bag stuffed with a lighter, a store catalog and other goodies, they were seeking his advice on how to grow marijuana hydroponically.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it is a great advertising venue,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who recommends a growing medium made of coconut husks, is a medical marijuana patient who grows his own organic cannabis. He and about 200 people showed up for the Atlantic CannaFEST at Deering Oaks park. As soon as the farmers’ market started clearing out, High Hopes, a Boston-area reggae band, struck up.
An occasional whiff of marijuana smoke drifted out from the crowd, and many sported dreadlocks and tie-dyed T-shirts.
The event included a handful of booths; a massage station; several political candidates handing out literature, including Dr. Jill Stein, a Massachusetts physician and Green Party candidate for president; a couple of craft dealers; and, oddly, a single food booth.
Matt Seavy, manager of Mike’s Rock ‘N Roll Sandwiches, said business was steady all day.
“The more their eyes are closed, the more they’re going to order,” Seavy said of his customers. “Everyone that comes up is a lot nicer than the people that come into the (Congress Street) store.”
Seavy said the food, including 200 hot dogs, 200 hamburgers, 200 chicken- and tuna-salad sandwiches, probably would hold out for the four-hour event.
But just in case the crowd developed a munchies attack for something sweet, Aron Werman, of Portland, rented a Good Humor truck, which he parked outside the event, hoping to attract some spillover customers.
“This is great to see. I would love to see more,” Werman said.
Festival organizer Charles Wynott, of Portland, who uses medical marijuana, said his goal was to promote medical marijuana and protest the high prices at state-sanctioned dispensaries.
Dr. Dustin Sulak, a physician who runs integrated medical clinics in Hallowell and Falmouth, urged medical marijuana users to cut down on the amount of cannabis they use and give their excess to patients who need it but cannot afford it.
Sulak also led the crowd in breathing exercises. His Integr8 Health Inc. booth dispensed free hemp wick lighters, touted as much healthier than butane lighters.
For those who need marijuana but can’t afford dispensary prices of $300 to $400 an ounce, Chris Kenoyer was Saturday’s laid-back hero.
Kenoyer held a drawing for free small vials of pot, giving away ticket stubs to those who had both a prescription and a MaineCare or food stamp card to certify that they were low-income patients.
Kenoyer is a registered caregiver and grows marijuana for his patients. He said state law allows medical marijuana patients to give their pot to other patients, as long as no money changes hands.
He drew numbers out of a small bag and handed out vials of marijuana, usually accompanied by a brief description of the virtues of each particular variety.
Roland Allison, of Portland, got a small amount of Grand Daddy Purple.
He said he smokes marijuana to help him offset nausea caused by medicine he takes for hepatitis C. He gets by on disability benefits, he said, and his apartment isn’t big enough for him to grow his own marijuana.
“I get mine from the streets,” he said.
That’s also where Anya Morin, of Portland, gets her marijuana to deal with side effects of Crohn’s disease.
“It helps me with many things, like stomach pain, cramping. It helps me to eat,” said Morin, who got a dose of Tangerine Dreams from Kenoyer.
Not everyone was there to extol the virtues of cannabis. Kristen Thomsen, a Portland physician’s assistant, said she was there to find out more about Stein’s views on health care.
“We all here in Maine should be paying attention because people are still falling through the cracks,” Thomsen said.
Parents at the William A. Goodwin Playspace, a couple of hundred feet away, were mostly oblivious to the festival’s focus.
“Perfect timing,” said Kera Howard, of Portland, when she learned what the festival was about.
Watching her son, Jacobi, tear around the playground, Howard said the odor of marijuana that she caught earlier made sense.
“I noticed it a little when we were walking in, but then I notice it everywhere,” she said.
Most people said they weren’t put off by the event.
“Not in the least,” said Bill Grubb, of Cape Elizabeth, who was taking his two grandchildren for a walk in the park near the festival.
“I’ve always liked reggae,” said Carl Sellars, of Portland, who interrupted his bicycle ride through the park to stop and listen to some music. Sellars said he was unaware of the nature of the event but not bothered at all once he learned what it was.
Portland police Lt. Gary Hutcheson said there were no problems or complaints associated with the festival.
“We didn’t even send anyone down there,” he said. “We treated it like any other event.”